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Board Notes of April 17, 2019

Apr 26, 2019
Concerns expressed over provincial cut to health unit budget

Concerns expressed over provincial cut to health unit budget

The Simcoe Muskoka Board of Health opted to join the voices of health units across Ontario in expressing concerns over a planned cut by 2021-2022, starting in 2019-2020, of $200 million to provincial funding of public health. A letter from Board Chair Anita Dubeau directed to Health Minister Christine Elliott with copies to the municipal councils in Simcoe Muskoka and to the Association of Local Public Health Agencies urges the province to reconsider the size of the reduction in funding.

The cut, which is a substantial percentage of provincial funding for public health, was announced in the provincial budget tabled on April 11, and would, the letter from the Board states, “challenge our ability to continue to fully provide … cost effective and essential services.” The budget also announced plans to reduce the number of health units from 35 to 10 regional public health entities, and to make changes to the current funding formula, which specifies a 75-25 split of revenues to health units between the province and municipalities.

The letter also asks that strong ties with local communities remain in place as the government moves towards the creation of the new regional public health bodies.

Board members discussing their approach to the cuts also stressed the importance of working with the province in a collaborative way. As such, the letter pledges the health unit’s readiness to offer its expertise and insights, and to work with other health units, municipalities, school boards and partner agencies as a new regional public health entity takes shape.

Better controls of alcohol overuse needed

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is writing to the province asking it to develop a provincial alcohol strategy to reduce the harms from alcohol use. Since 2010 the health unit has made repeated appeals to the Ontario government to reconsider relaxed regulations that have increased access to alcohol.

Increased access is known to increase consumption of alcohol, which in turn adds to the burden of illness and alcohol-related costs in the province. The latest proposed measures by the current government would allow “tailgate parties” at major sporting events and extend alcohol service hours, while they continue to signal an intention to expand sales outlets through convenience and big box stores.

The rate of heavy drinking incidents in Simcoe Muskoka already exceeds the Ontario average, says Rebecca Dupuis, manager of the substance use and injury prevention program at the health unit. Provincially, she said, 16 per cent of Ontario residents are currently unaware of the recommended national low-risk drinking guidelines.

Child care supports need to be stronger

There are only enough licensed child care spaces in Simcoe Muskoka for 23 per cent of the children under age 4 in need of child care.  The current child care market is not meeting many families’ needs, leaving them scrambling to patch together care for their children. 

A variety of issues are identified in an assessment of local child care in Simcoe and Muskoka brought to the Board of Health by Natalie Riewe, Acting Chief Nursing Officer. Affordability is another key issue; a middle income family can be expected to spend 29 per cent of income on child care, while child care for a family earning minimum wage eats up 45 per cent of the household budget if they don’t have access to a subsidy. The lack of licensed spaces and high cost leads working parents to use other options like unlicensed child care, or ask other family members to provide care — options that don’t carry any of the standards of care that are required for licensed child care. Local municipalities are working hard to improve the situation, but it will take action by the provincial and federal governments to rethink the child care system.

The Board is forwarding a motion to the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) asking the association to advocate for an comprehensive child care system, and workforce strategy, and to advocate at both federal and provincial levels to keep their commitments to and invest in a more affordable, accessible, high quality child care system.

Each year, alPHa receives motions from health units across the province at its annual convention in June. These motions set the agenda for the association’s advocacy efforts in years to come.

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